mainstreet453x342Fairfax and Boyle Heights, movie-making and land development – Jews, the Autry’s most recent exhibition argues, have shaped Los Angeles as Los Angeles shaped them. Featuring objects that stretch as far back as the nineteenth century, curator Karen Wilson provides a story of Los Angeles that places the Jewish community at both the center and margins of LA’s development. Although excluded in the twentieth century from white Angeleno culture due to their racial status as Jewish, Jews were still able to directly influence the social, economic, and political development of LA through their work in some of the city’s key industries, including film and real estate. (After all, when we think LA, movies and housing developments are some of the first things that come to mind. Other than the freeways we love to hate, of course.)

The exhibition companion book, with the same title as the exhibition, contains five essays – including one from Wilson, the curator – that cover a range of topics, from Jewish bakers and Jewish women in politics to Hollywood and pop music. Together, these studies provide deeper analysis of the show’s objects than the exhibition labels are able to give, allowing both the casual reader and the studied academic to find stories of ample interest here. Plus, it’s lushly illustrated – so you can revisit your favorite objects from the show.

“Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic” also offers an interactive element – encouraging visitors to leave remarks and answer questions like “will LA become a melting pot or a salad bowl?” and “will your grandchildren speak more than one language?” Challenging visitors to place themselves within the Los Angeles mosaic and consider both their past and future, the Autry will post responses monthly at It’s an intriguing project, and we look forward to seeing what comes of it.

The exhibition provides viewers with an accessible narrative studded with charismatic displays that remain with museum-goers long after they leave. Did you know that the Barbie was invented by a Jewish Angeleno? Or that the daughter of Jewish immigrants created the famed anti-war image of a flower with the text “war is not healthy for children and other living things”? There are many more great objects here, but I wouldn’t want to ruin all the surprises!

Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic is at the Autry National Center of the American West, located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027. It runs May 10, 2013 to January 5, 2014. An exhibition companion book, Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic, is edited by curator Karen Wilson.

Artwork above by Lorraine Art Schneider, Primer, 1966, etching. Loan courtesy of Carol Schneider and Family. Photo by Susan Einstein. Originally created for an art competition that limited the work to a four-inch square, this image became the logo of the organization Another Mother for Peace and the most famous anti-war poster of the Vietnam War era. Schneider grew up in Boyle Heights, the daughter of Jewish immigrants.

At top, photograph of stores of Jewish proprietors in the Downey Block on Main Street, circa 1870. Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Photographs courtesy of the Autry National Center.

— Annie Powers

Posted by Boom California